Everything You Need to Know About Forklifts

The forklift is an integral part of many businesses, especially warehouses. The biggest challenge that operators face today is deciding which forklift they want, and if the one that they want is actually going to be right for the job. What seems like a fairly simple piece of machinery is actually a little more complex than you think. In this detailed guide, you will find everything you need to know about forklifts so that you are able to make the right choice.

The Key Elements of a Forklift

There are three main elements that make up a forklift. They are as follows:

  • Lift Capacity. This refers to the amount of weight that a forklift is able to carry safely. This also plays a major role in terms of the stability of the vehicle, as overloading will cause instability to occur.
  • Load Centre. This is the distance from the forks to the centre of gravity of the load. This will vary according to the weight of the load, the lift angle, and the tilt angle. However, operators don’t have to worry too much about this as long as they respect the weight capacity.
  • Stability. The stability triangle is actually located under the forklift, and it maintains the centre of gravity so that the forklift does not tip over. This is also why you don’t need to worry about the load centre too much.

Forklift Classes Made Simple

Interestingly, there are several different classes for forklifts – just like we have for cars. Here’s a quick rundown of the various forklift classes before we get started.

  • Class I: Electric Motor Ride Trucks
  • Fuel Type: Electric
  • Use: Loading/unloading, handling pallets
  • Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks
  • Fuel Type: Electric
  • Use: Operating in tight spaces, handling pallets, picking/storing inventory
  • Class III: Electric Motor Hand Trucks or Hand/Rider Trucks
  • Fuel Type: Electric
  • Use: Unloading deliveries from tractor-trailers; short runs in smaller spaces
  • Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (Solid/Cushion Tires)
  • Fuel Type: Petrol/Diesel
  • Use: Moving pallets from the loading dock to storage and vice versa
  • Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (Pneumatic Tires)
  • Fuel Type: Petrol/Diesel
  • Use: Versatile; trucks in this class can handle single pallets to loaded 40-foot containers
  • Class VI: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors
  • Fuel Type: Electric, Petrol, Diesel
  • Use: Commonly used for hauling of pulling loads rather than lifting; versatile
  • Class VII: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks
  • Fuel Type: Petrol/Diesel
  • Use: Great for lumberyards/construction sites where crews need to lift building materials to high elevations

Types of Forklift

This is the best part, where we get to take a look at each type of forklift in greater detail. This section (especially when combined with the others in this guide) should help you to figure out exactly what you need for the task at hand.

Lithium forklifts

Lithium is the future, and many people are now using these as opposed to those powered by standard fuels. They are just as powerful and efficient as a standard forklift truck, and come with all of the added extras that you’d expect on each type. They are also a lot better for the environment.

Top 10 good reasons you should choose a lithium forklift truck

Order pickers

This is a type of walkie forklift, and it is used to pick and deliver materials from storage. They can reach heights of up to 32ft, and are designed to lift the operator up to the warehouse racks so that they can collect items. Their clever design means that they can handle a whole range of items and weights effortlessly.

Reach trucks

These are almost exclusively used for indoor work, and their primary function is to massively extend their height and reach into the warehouse racks in a manner that a standard truck just can’t. The open compartment also ensures that the operator has excellent visibility at all times while working.

Counterbalance trucks

These are the most commonly used inside warehouses and other such locations, and can even be used outdoors on a flat and stable surface. They are easy to operate and feature dual forks at the front of the truck to lift and transport loads. Within this, there are many different types of counterbalance forklift, including the little three-wheel narrow aisle models.

Rough terrain forklifts. These are perfect for using on construction sites or places where the outdoor terrain is very rough and uneven. They have thicker inflatable tyres for better stability, as well as a more powerful engine so that it can move faster and harder over obstacles. Carefully calibrated for all conditions, many of them can easily handle three tonne loads.


These are perfectly suited to work in narrow aisles, and smaller warehouses certainly benefit from them. This is because the forks are mounted to the side of the truck, allowing them to pick up loads that would have otherwise been quite awkward. There is both an indoor and outdoor version, which makes it a more versatile vehicle.

Forklift Sizes

They come in a whole load of sizes so that they can be used for a number of different jobs. While every model is versatile, size does matter when trying to get the job done right. A standard forklift comes in at approximately four to seven feet wide and eight to ten feet long. These are good allrounders that can perform a variety of tasks.

An outdoor or rough terrain forklift can easily exceed ten feet in terms of length, and a narrow aisle forklift (think walkie stackers and side loaders) often comes in at less than 5ft. This is why you need to consider the size of your warehouse aisles carefully before buying. As an example, a standard forklift would need 13ft of width to turn and navigate effectively.

Don’t forget to keep the height in mind as well. Most standard forklifts can reach heights between 10 - 15ft, but there are specialist forklifts out there than can go all the way up to 55ft. It all depends on the kind of loads you have as well as the work area.

How to Choose a Forklift

Choosing a forklift from all of the different types that have been listed above is no easy task. However, there are some criteria you should keep in mind that will help you determine which one is going to be right for your needs. They are as follows:

  • Determine the required capacity
  • Determine the weight of your job site
  • Determine the height of the workspace
  • Decide if you want it powered by fuel or electric, and the kind of fuel you’d want
  • Analyse the terrain and take a look at which forklifts can deal with it

To Conclude

The most important thing to remember with forklifts is that operators receive full and proper training to ensure that they are able to drive and control it in a safe and correct manner. If you are planning on operating a forklift, make sure that you receive training and obtain the necessary licenses and qualifications.

For those employing a forklift operator, it is essential that you check to ensure that those being hired have the correct qualifications for operating the trucks you have in your business. From there, the rest is simple, especially when you have a guide like this to help you pick the right type of forklift.

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